Category Archives: Working

Sun-Times lays off entire photo staff

Fellow former newspaperman Burl sent me the following link yesterday, along with the message, “We got out just in time:”

Chicago Sun-Times cuts entire photography staff

The Chicago Sun-Times and its sister suburban papers have eliminated their photography staff and will ask the papers’ reporters to provide more photography and video for their stories.

Managers at Sun-Times Media Holdings LLC, the Wrapports LLC unit that owns the papers, told the photographers in a meeting this morning that it was cutting their jobs, according to people familiar with the situation. The number of full-time workers affected is about 20, but including part-time employees, it could be closer to 30, they said.

While the company, which has been trying to revive profits, still will hire professional freelance photographers for coverage, it will increasingly rely on reporters to take photos and video to accompany their stories, the sources said…

And I responded to Burl, No, actually, YOU did — you found a great job right up your alley (in an awesome location) and quit BEFORE you got laid off. Me, I got the same treatment as these photographers…

Just for the record.

There should be nothing new about reporters having to take pictures, although for some I’m sure it’s been a shock in recent years. Hey, I was usually my own photographer when I was in a rural bureau back in the late ’70s. I did a pretty good job, too. But it was always nice to have a photographer along. For one thing because, you know, some (but not all) were better photographers than I was.

But it also was helpful to double-team a source. If I was interviewing someone and needed to pause to get a picture, the person tended to tense up and look self-conscious. Whereas a photographer could get good candid shots of the subject while I was distracting him or her.

Also, it could be handy to have a partner along in a dicey, remote situation. One photog I worked with, for instance, carried a gun in his glove compartment. Just in case.

And you could learn things about people while out on assignment. Once, a photog whom I will not name but whom I had known for years and years went out with me to report on a train derailment way, way out in the boonies in West Tennessee. It had gone off a bridge over a creek a good distance from any road. We were going to have to leave the car and hike maybe half a mile over fields that had close to a foot of new snow on them.

He said we should both put on hats, since a person loses so much of his body heat through his head. I agreed — who wouldn’t? We both had knit caps. I put on mine. I didn’t realize he was building up to something. He hesitated. He said, “If you ever tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you.” About what? I started to say… and then he pulled off his hair.

I had had no idea.

Anyway, I swore I’d never tell, he put on his hat, and we set out.

Months or years later, one of the old hands in the newsroom made some casual remark about how that photographer was so sensitive about his baldness.

I said, incredulous, “You know about that?”

She was surprised at me: “Oh, everybody knows about ____’s rug.”

But I digress.

Anyway, photographers are useful (and sometimes entertaining), to have around. So I’m sorry not only for the individuals who just lost their jobs in Chicago — believe me, folks; I feel your pain — but for journalism. The craft just got even poorer.

Report: Now, ricin-laced letter has been mailed to Obama

First, there was the report last night that mail containing ricin had been intercepted on its way to Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker.

Now, there’s this:

 WASHINGTON – A letter addressed to President Obama, containing a suspicious substance, was intercepted at a screening facility outside the White House, the Secret Service said on Wednesday.

The letter was received on Tuesday – similar timing to the letter addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, which tested positive for ricin. The letter had similar markings and is similar in appearance to the one addressed to Mr. Wicker, according to a law enforcement official.

The Secret Service did not disclose what was in the letter or provide any details, saying it was intercepted in a facility that “routinely identifies letters or parcels that require secondary screening or scientific testing before delivery.”

The mailing facility is not close to the White House grounds, the Secret Service said. An official said the Secret Service is working with the United States Capitol Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This is more than weird. After 9/11, we had the anthrax mailings. Now this, after Boston. Is there something about overt terrorist acts on U.S. soil that stimulates a certain kind of deviant to put poison in the mail?

Ricin, you say? Does anyone know the whereabouts of this man?

Ricin, you say? Does anyone know the whereabouts of this man?

This really brings back the memories. Since some media types were among the targets last time around, we went the extra mile at The State to make sure ensure the safety of employees. Some regular travelers like Doug experienced inconvenience at airports. For me, the biggest direct impact of extreme security measures was dealing with the mail in the fall of 2001.

It was decided to move mail sorting out of the main building, into a smaller structure located on the grounds of The State. And senior staff members — the executives in charge of news, editorial, advertising, circulation, etc. — worked shifts supervising the process. So it was that I found myself going over to the other building for an hour or two, a couple of times a week, to personally supervise the shuffling of mail. There was no practical point to senior staff doing this, beyond the point of showing that we would share any one-in-a-million danger involved in the process.

It was as boring as it sounds, and every moment was imbued with a sense of absurdity. But such was the atmosphere in the country at the time.

The interesting thing about these latest developments, for me, was that I learned that Congress and the White House were still processing mail at remote locations. Well, it makes a lot more sense for them to be doing it than for a private business. But I didn’t know it until now.

The amazing thing about newspapers, as interpreted by ‘George Costanza’

Romenesko shared this, which he got from The Harvard Crimson. It’s from an interview with Jason Alexander, best known for his role as George Costanza on “Seinfeld”:

The first time I really thought, “Oh my god, Jerry Seinfeld is brilliant” was when he did a joke about newspapers, and how relieved the editors of a newspaper must be when exactly the right amount of things happen everyday to make the paper come out perfectly, so that at six o’clock at their deadline, you don’t go, “Oh, one more thing happened,” and now you have a blank page with two paragraphs.

I’ve always loved that joke, too. Because while it is meant to be seen as ridiculous, it taps into a sense of wonder I had about newspaper from an early age.

When I was in second or third grade, I read a book of short stories aimed at people my age. It had a theme — each story opened a window on some different aspect of the big wide world, meant to show kids the possibilities for when they grew up. One story, the one I remember best, was about a kid who went to work for a newspaper as a copy boy (which would be my first newspaper job, at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, years later). The reader followed the boy as he learned about everything it took to publish a newspaper each day.

I was struck with awe at the enormity of such a task. I couldn’t believe any group of people, no matter how experienced or talented, could get all of those things done in a day, every day. And yet there was the proof, on my doorstep each morning.

Decades later, after I had mastered every aspect of the process, I used to wonder sometimes at the complaints we’d get from readers. Someone would be griping at me about some small thing that, in his or her opinion, wasn’t quite right in the paper, and I would remember that story and how it impressed me. And I’d think, Hasn’t this person ever thought about what a miracle it is that the paper comes out at all? Obviously not, or they’d have backed off a bit.

I’ve never thought a single actual error in any paper I worked for was excusable. And readers deserved to demand the same high standard from us. But occasionally, when they were going on and on about some tiny thing that had gone wrong (or that they saw as having gone wrong), I’d find myself wishing they’d pause, just a moment, to be impressed by everything that was right, against all odds…

Oh, wait, one other thing… Having spent a lot of years making the news fit the paper, ruthlessly wielding a light-blue felt pen (which humans could read, but the camera that shot the page when it was done could not pick up) in composing rooms, or trimming with marginally greater delicacy on a computer screen, I found myself puzzled that Yahoo paid a high-school kid tens of millions for an app that… well, here’s the description:

Yahoo was attracted to Summly’s core technology for automatically summarizing news articles. The technology, which included an algorithm for deriving the summaries, was created with help from SRI International, a Silicon Valley research-and development firm that has an artificial-intelligence lab and has an ownership stake in the startup….

In 2011, Mr. D’Aloisio founded his company, at the time called Trimit. He redesigned the app to automatically boil news articles down to 400-word summaries and re-launched it as Summly in late 2012 with help from SRI…

I thought, hey, I could have done that for Yahoo for half the money. And I wouldn’t have needed an app for it. It only takes seconds per story. I’ll admit, the slashing I used to do in composing rooms (and on computer screens) wasn’t always a work of art when I was in a hurry (which was most of the time) — but I kind of doubt this app is any more respectful of the writers’ precious words…

Somehow, I can’t bring myself to worry about Michael Dell’s job situation

The Wall Street Journal has been keeping me up-to-date on Michael Dell’s attempt to take the company he founded private.

This morning’s installment of the saga was headlined, “Michael Dell Finds His Deal, And Job, in the Cross Hairs.” An excerpt:

Michael Dell‘s DELL +2.62% plan to gain greater control of his company and take it private began to backfire, as rival bidders for the computer maker floated competing offers that, if accepted, could leave him out of a job.

Blackstone Group LP BX -0.41% and activist investor Carl Icahn delivered separate proposals to a special committee of Dell Inc.’s board before a key deadline for offers expired, people familiar with the matter said. Blackstone has been exploring the possibility of someone else leading the company, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But you know what? I’ve just gotta confess that it’s tough for me to be on pins and needles about the possibility of poor Michael losing his job.

Those of you who understand high finance might set me straight here, but near as I can tell, if he “loses” this fight, he walks away with one of the best severance deals in the history of the planet. His bid is for $24.4 billion. Presumably, the winning bid would be comparable. He controls about 16 percent of the stock.

Of course, a job is about more than money. There’s job satisfaction. There’s one’s place in a community; one’s sense of making a contribution.

But don’t you think the best days for all that are sort of behind him? How will he ever repeat the heady days of founding the company in his dorm room, and seeing it rise to where “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” was all the rage. Now, the company, and the industry of which it has formed a prominent part, have seen their best days.

Mind you, I am sort of rooting for his bid to take the company private, just on general principles. I say this on the basis of my own experiences working for publicly-traded companies. If I were in his position, I’d want to be private, too.

But I can’t help thinking that for him, personally, the best thing might be to lose his job. Then he could take his cash and go out and do something new and exciting. Or just chill. There’s always that option.

The problem with writing your column ahead of time

Noonan

Meant to mention this over the weekend…

Peggy Noonan tends to work ahead of time on her weekly column for the WSJ, which runs in the print version on Saturday. I can’t swear to this, but I think I’ve seen it posted early on Friday in the past.

That makes her more of a Cindi Scoppe than a Brad Warthen. Cindi always wrote a piece as soon as the idea had fully coalesced and she had all the legwork for it, even if it wasn’t to run for days. I never started writing a column until the day it was due. I take that back; “never’ isn’t quite right. Sometimes I would stay late on Thursday night trying to write my Sunday column (which was due midday Friday). But when I did, I usually scrapped it for a fresher idea, or completely rewrote it, on Friday. Which made the work ahead of time seem sort of pointless.

There was also the thing that I just wrote better under deadline pressure, which is why what I did on Friday was better than anything I’d written on Thursday, usually.

But the biggest reason why I didn’t write ahead of time was beautifully illustrated by Ms. Noonan’s column this past weekend. An excerpt:

It’s not a debt and deficit crisis, it’s a jobs crisis. The debt and the deficit are part of it, part of the general fear that we’re on a long slide and can’t turn it around. The federal tax code is part of it—it’s a drag on everything, a killer of the spirit of guts and endeavor. Federal regulations are part of it. The administration’s inability to see the stunning and historic gift of the energy revolution is part of it.

But it’s a jobs crisis that’s the central thing. And you see it everywhere you look…

That’s how it started. This is how it ended:

… Mr. Obama is making the same mistake he made four years ago. We are in a jobs crisis and he does not see it. He thinks he’s in a wrestling match about taxing and spending, he thinks he’s in a game with those dread Republicans. But the real question is whether the American people will be able to have jobs.

Once they do, so much will follow—deficits go down a little as fewer need help, revenues go up as more pay taxes. Confidence and trust in the future will grow. People will be happier.

There’s little sense he sees this. Dr. Doom talks about coming disaster when businessmen need the confidence to hire someone. He’s missing the boat on the central crisis of his second term.

Unlike many of her columns, which range across several topics, the whole thrust of this one was what a failure Obama is on jobs.

And yes, that column ran the day after we learned the economy had added a surprisingly high 236,000 jobs in February, bringing the unemployment rate to its lowest point in four years.

Now of course, one can quibble about how good that news is. And indeed, her column was updated with the new unemployment figure, and she wrote, “The jobless rate, officially 7.7%, is almost twice that if you include those who have stopped looking, work part time, or are only ‘marginally attached’ to the workforce.”

But still. If she’d waited until Friday to write the thing, she’d have chosen a different topic. This was the worst Saturday in four years for making the argument she advanced in this one.

Economist takes live-and-let-live position on Oxford comma

An alert reader brought this piece from The Economist to my attention. An excerpt:

To recap, the Oxford comma separates the last two items in a list, as in “red, white, and blue”. For reasons opaque, the use or non-use of the final comma here stirs passions all out of proportion to its importance. As OnlineSchools.com’s graphic notes, much of the world uses it, but equally respectable publishing houses and publications do not. The Economist is in the latter camp: we would write “red, white and blue”.  Defenders of the Oxford comma point to an almost certainly apocryphal story of the student who dedicated a piece of work to “my parents, God and Ayn Rand”. But anyone who writes such a thing has bigger problems than punctuation. Any sensible person would edit and remove such messes as this, whether they use the Oxford comma or not.

What I like about OnlineSchools.com’s graphic is its explanation that the Oxford comma isn’t a black-or-white, always-or-never thing. It is a matter of style. Use it or don’t, but be consistent, and you’re fine. Rarely is such finesse on display when people talk about these things…

What that sort of implies, but doesn’t clearly say, is that even someone who does not use the Oxford comma as a rule might use it, without being untrue to himself, in a series of elements that are more complex than red, white and blue. For instance, if he were to describe the same colors as the hue of an apple at the perfect point of ripeness, that of a face that has been drained of blood at the moment when its owner has heard appalling news, and the color that you see staring straight down into the Pacific when you’re out of sight of land.

No one should be so rigid about this or any other style rule that it gets in the way of clear communication.

Of course, just plain “red, white and blue” would be the more economical way to say it.

Did the WSJ’s editors do this on purpose?

noonan

I just thought this was an interesting juxtaposition this morning: A separate headline using Peggy Noonan’s signature “kinder, gentler” phrase, right under her latest column.

Was that a conscious irony on the part of the editor who wrote the headline, and/or the one who put the page together, and/or those who read proofs? Or completely coincidental?

I don’t know.

In any case, here’s a link to the Noonan column, and here’s the piece under it with the “kinder, gentler” hed.

Under fire, Gen. Turner quits state employment agency

This broke at about midday today:

SEANNA ADCOX
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP, WLTX) – The director of South Carolina’s unemployment agency has resigned, effective March 1.GeneralTurner2

Department of Employment and Workforce Director Abraham Turner turned in a hand-written resignation letter to the governor Friday.

In the letter, Turner says he’s resigning for personal reasons. His resignation follows questions from legislators stemming from the agency’s decision to eliminate one-on-one help for people seeking benefits in 17 rural offices statewide…

It first came to my attention because of this emailed comment from state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland:

“Governor Haley has allowed her agency, SC DEW, to become an absolute embarrassment. In the last two weeks the governor’s agency has made news because of crippling layoffs, massive pay raises, lavish taxpayer funded beach retreats, the closing of seventeen unemployment centers in rural counties, and now the resignation of the Executive Director. Governor Haley must regain control of her agency before it is too late. Millions of South Carolinians depend on this agency to be functional and effective. As it stands today, it is the opposite.”

But not only Democrats have been complaining about how the agency has been run under the retired general. As thestate.com reports:

The employment agency’s woes have become a subject of almost daily criticism in the Legislature.

State Sen. Ken Bryant, R-Anderson, took to the floor Thursday to blast what he said were outlandish raises — some of more than 50 percent — recently given some agency employees. Bryant also said the agency was claiming victory for lowering jobless benefits improperly paid to $50 million from $90 million.

Other senators joined in a bipartisan display of frustration.

At one point, Bryant and Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, exchanged criticisms of the agency, with Setzler, a moderate Democrat, and Bryant, a Tea Party Republican, both ripping the agency and its leadership, citing recent cuts in its staffing and the raises, the closing of rural offices and an oceanside management retreat…

My Top Ten favorite ads from the 2013 Super Bowl

To hundreds of millions of Americans, today is the day after Super Sunday. To me, it’s Monday. (Hey, if I were a football fan I’d use those Roman numbers instead of “2013″ in my headline.)

Still, I took some time this morning to look at the ads from the big event last night for the ADCO blog, and following are the ones I put in my Top Ten. (“Top Ten” may not sound very selective, until you reflect that there were 47 of them. Really.)

Here were my admittedly simplistic, off-the-top-of-my-head criteria:

  1. Does it sell the product?
  2. If it features a celebrity, does it make good use of that star power (or is it just a gratuitous appearance)?
  3. Is it original, clever, creative, witty, funny, whatever?

Anyway, here’s my list:

  1. Time Warner Cable: “Walking Dead” — Definitely sells the product, and most awesome use of star power: Isn’t Daryl everybody’s favorite “Walking Dead” survivor? “Yes, ma’am.” See video above.
  2. Mercedes: “Soul” — Great casting (nobody else can do that evil look like Willem Dafoe), and only Martin Scorsese has made better use of the Stones’ music. I was wondering how they were going to get out of the trap of the Mercedes actually being a devilish temptation; it was handled deftly, by punching the car’s (relative) low price.
  3. Dodge: “Farmer” — Accomplished what the “Jeep” one tried to do, and did it in an unexpected way. This one is the rightful successor to the much-maligned, but remembered, Clint Eastwood one.
  4. Kraft MiO Fit: “Liftoff” — I’m gonna miss that character. Or maybe not. Good thing we have Netflix. My favorite line of his from last episode of “”30 Rock”: When he calls a computer “the pornography box.”
  5. Volkswagen: “Get Happy” — Not a match for the Darth Vader kid, but a laudably original attempt.
  6. Samsung: “The Next Big Thing” — Two of Judd Apatow’s stars took it to one level, Saul from “Breaking Bad” took it to the next.
  7. Toyota: “Wish Granted” — Funny. Good star power. Give it a B+.
  8. Go Daddy: “Big Idea” — Had the hurdle of communicating (to the remaining millions who don’t have their own websites) what Go Daddy, does; jumped over it nicely. Far better than the other GoDaddy ad that everybody’s on about.
  9. Hyundai Turbo: “Stuck Behind” — Loved the “Breaking Bad” reference, if that’s what it was (the guy in the hazmat suit).
  10. Budweiser: “Brotherhood” — Deftly evokes the question, “Can a really big horse be man’s best friend?” (See video below.)

 

‘What It Feels Like To Be Photographed In A Moment Of Grief’

Here’s something for us all to ponder in these days when journalism is more and more about emotion…

On the night of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., a woman named Aline Marie attended a prayer vigil at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, which was packed with local residents and the media. After about 45 minutes, Marie saw the statue of Mary and knelt down to pray.

“I sat there in a moment of devastation with my hands in prayer pose asking for peace and healing in the hearts of men,” she recalls. “I was having such a strong moment and my heart was open, and I started to cry.”

Her mood changed abruptly, she says, when “all of a sudden I hear ‘clickclickclickclickclick’ all over the place. And there are people in the bushes, all around me, and they are photographing me, and now I’m pissed. I felt like a zoo animal.”

What particularly troubles her, she says, is “no one came up to me and said ‘Hi, I’m from this paper and I took your photograph.’ No one introduced themselves. I felt violated. And yes, it was a lovely photograph, but there is a sense of privacy in a moment like that, and they didn’t ask.”…

Here is the picture in question. NPR goes on to pose this question:

What are your thoughts? Should photographers interact with their subjects in moments of grief, or is it more respectful to leave them alone?

Which is a good one.

I’m old school on this. Way old school. Recently, in a comment on another thread, I told this anecdote about an experience that deeply affected the way I look at this sort of thing:

One of my first assignments as a reporter, back in the 70s, was to go interview a family that had lost some children in a fire. It was one of those awful situations of a family that lived in a rural shack heated by a wood-or-coal-burning stove, and some coals got out of the stove and caused the house to burn like kindling.

The photographer and I found the home where the survivors were staying with relatives. It was a house just like the one that had burned, way out in the country. The parents of the dead children were at the funeral home making arrangements. The family that lived in the home let us in, and then left us to wait in the front room while they congregated back in the kitchen. There was no conversation between us.

The photographer — much older and more experienced than I was — and I sat on the edges of our chairs, feeling EXTREMELY awkward, intensely feeling how much we were intruding, and unwelcome. But I guess maybe those poor folks didn’t feel empowered to turn us away.

We glanced at each other uncomfortably every few moments, and stared around the room the rest of the time.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the wood-burning stove in the center of the room. There were burned spots in the battered linoleum floor all around it. Another imminent tragedy, staring me in the face.

We just sat there, waiting to pester those poor bereaved parents, dreading their return, for about an hour.

Finally, one of us — I think it was Bob, the photog — said “Let’s get out of here.” And we did.

Here’s the upshot of the story. Although it became more and more common over the years for news organizations to harass bereaved families in their grief and demand to know how they felt — I even worked with some people who maintained that it gave families a welcome catharsis — I resolved that day that if I were ever an editor, I would never send anyone on such an assignment.

As it turns out, I was an editor a couple of years later, and for the rest of my career. And I never forgot that resolution. Reporters can attest that I sent them on a lot of awkward, unpleasant assignments over the years, but I never sent anyone out on one like that.

Now, having declared myself entirely against this sort of thing, I can offer some defense of the photographer in this case. First, this doesn’t appear to have been the worst sort of intrusion, as there is no indication that the subject of the photo was a bereaved family member. Second, if you are going to take pictures like this — and that is to me debatable — then it’s disingenuous to demand that the subject be asked first. The journalistic version of the Observer Effect kicks in. You can’t get a picture like that — an honest, real one — after you’ve made the subject aware of your presence. And really, do you even want a picture of someone who would say “yes,” and then strike a pose for you? I think not. Such a photo would not only be ethically compromised, it would be downright creepy.

Thoughts? Or feelings, considering the topic?

View of Jim DeMint changed radically after the 2004 campaign

I was rather startled to run across something I’d written about Jim DeMint in 2004.

For so many years now, I’ve seen him as a hyperpartisan ideologue, as responsible as anyone in the country for pulling his party into Tea Party extremism right up until his recent resignation from the Senate, that I’d forgotten I used to see him differently.

Here’s what I wrote right after the 2004 election, when he had defeated Inez Tenenbaum in the contest to replace Fritz Hollings:

While I criticized Rep. DeMint heavily for choosing to run as a hyperpartisan (despite his record as an independent thinker), there’s little doubt that that strategy was his key to victory. The president won South Carolina 58-41, and Mr. DeMint beat Mrs. Tenenbaum 54-44, demonstrating the power of the coattail effect. I congratulate him, and sincerely hope he now returns to being the thoughtful policy wonk he was before he wrapped himself in party garb in recent weeks.

Wow. What a difference a few years make. “Thoughtful policy wonk?” I only vaguely remember that Jim DeMint.

So that’s when it began. Before the 2004 campaign, I saw him as a fairly thoughtful guy. But I guess that campaign showed him what red meat could do for him…

Randy Scott back as police chief

Thought I’d go ahead and pass this on, since some of y’all expressed a lot of interest in the story earlier:

Randy Scott has been rehired as Columbia’s police chief.

Scott retired Jan. 1 to take advantage of changes in the state’s retirement system. He had to stay retired for 15 days, then reapply for his job under the state’s retirement rules.

He will return to work Wednesday, which is the first day he is eligible to return to work.

The city said Scott was one of two applicants for the job, according to a news release, though it did not say who the other applicant was. The chief’s vacancy was posted on a city website.

Scott will be paid $112,200, the same salary he earned prior to his retirement.

That was from The State. WLTX has much the same story, with one or two different details.

Personally, I’m glad the chief is back on the job, as bizarre as the whole retiring and getting rehired thing is. And I look forward to seeing a more complete story, answering questions not addressed above.

I know there are other opinions out there…

Is McBride’s new $75k gig-to-be an outrage, or what?

Initially, I would have been in the “or what” category.

If, early on in this process — before all the stonewalling, and the is-she-resigning-or-is-she-not stuff — I would have been in the “or what” camp. After all, she supposedly did the job they’re moving her to adequately (or at least not disastrously) before. So why not move her back there?

But now, after all that has passed, the idea that she would go back to the same job with an $8,000 raise from what she was paid in that job before is pretty hard to take. In whose universe is that an appropriate response to her performance running the 2012 election? What happened between 2011 and now that made her that much more valuable in the proposed new/old job?

Some of y’all have been commenting on this already on other posts, but now I’m finally getting around to doing a separate post on it. Here’s the news story from this morning:

COLUMBIA, SC — Former Richland County elections director Lillian McBride is on track to be offered a $74,600-a-year job as deputy director in a newly reorganized elections and voter registration office.

In that new position, McBride – who last week agreed to step out of her $89,124-a-year director’s job – would stay in the office, overseeing county voter registration efforts and absentee balloting. That’s the job she held 18 months ago before becoming the state’s highest-paid county elections director and presiding Nov. 6 over the most bungled county election in modern state history…

McBride was paid $66,429 in 2011 as the county’s director of voter registration when Mike Cinnamon ran the separate county elections office. She got a raise to $85,000 in mid-2011 when she was named director of the newly merged voter registration and elections office…

Have at it, those of you who haven’t sounded off yet…

When will the senseless bloodletting (or blood-letting) end?

Stan Dubinsky brings my attention to another bit of brilliance from The Onion. Of course, you have to have spent years of your life (years you’ll never get back!) as an editor to fully appreciate it:

Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual Of Style. “At this time we have reason to believe the killings were gang-related and carried out by adherents of both the AP and Chicago styles, part of a vicious, bloody feud to establish control over the grammar and usage guidelines governing American English,” said FBI spokesman Paul Holstein, showing reporters graffiti tags in which the word “anti-social” had been corrected to read “antisocial.” “The deadly territory dispute between these two organizations, as well as the notorious MLA Handbook gang, has claimed the lives of more than 63 publishing professionals this year alone.” Officials also stated that an innocent 35-year-old passerby who found himself caught up in a long-winded dispute over use of the serial, or Oxford, comma had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Farewell to a solid reporter, Jim Davenport

Back in October, Nikki Haley gave Jim the Order of the Palmetto -- which frankly made me feel better about Nikki than I had in awhile.

Back in October, Nikki Haley gave Jim the Order of the Palmetto — which frankly made me feel better about Nikki than I had in awhile.

My favorite Jim Davenport story won’t make much sense to most people, but it always makes me smile.

Jim, whom we called “Dav” because that was his login on the Atex mainframe system we used at The State back then, first came to work for the paper on a sort of unofficial basis while he was still a graduate student at USC. Tom McLean, who was the executive editor in those days, paid him from some mysterious fund only he had access to — so Dav was working for us, but invisible to the folks in H.R.

The managing editor didn’t know about him, either. This was in the very late ’80s or very early ’90s, because that was when Bobby Hitt, now our secretary of commerce, was the M.E. One day in an editor’s meeting, Bobby (who had been away on a fellowship) asked, “Who’s this Jim Davenport and why are we cutting him checks?” One of my colleagues explained that he did various special projects and answered to the executive editor, but wasn’t able to provide any details.

At that moment, then-Features Editor Jim Foster leaped to his feet and cried, “Clarence Beeks!” At which point I just about literally fell on the floor laughing — although most in the room didn’t get it.

Assuming most of y’all are in the same boat, “Clarence Beeks” was the name of a shadowy character in the comedy “Trading Places,” who did top-secret, off-the-books jobs for these two rich guys who employed him to, among other things, get ahold of a top-secret crop report so that they could corner the market on frozen concentrated orange juice. There’s a sort of “eureka” moment in the movie when both Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd leap to their feet crying out in unison, “Clarence Beeks!”

OK, so maybe that story doesn’t tell you much about Jim Davenport, who died today at age 54 after a two-year battle with cancer. But in a way it does, because even that early in his career, he had a quiet, matter-of-fact competence about him that made you believe that he could go out and get done whatever needed doing. Tom McLean obviously thought so, or he wouldn’t have brought Jim on board when there was no actual position open for him. He was something of a jack-of-all-trades, as the story by his AP colleagues today attests:

Before entering journalism, he drove a barge for a dredging operation, worked as a roadie for a band and made tires at a factory. He also had a master’s degree in English. The journalism bug bit him while he was at the University of South Carolina…

… which was about when I met him.

Today, most in the trade in South Carolina know Jim as the Associated Press’s longtime stalwart watchdog over the State House. He’s known for such attention-grabbers as being the first to report when our governor went missing in 2009 (only to turn up later on a return flight from Argentina).

But Jim was also the kind of reporter that an editor like me particularly appreciates. I’ve never been a big admirer of the reporters who just hit an occasional home run and then rest on their laurels. I like the ones who get on base at least once in every game. Jim was solid day after day. Nothing stopped him. Just as one small example — it was his dogged persistence, nagging at the governor’s office, that finally got Nikki Haley to admit that she had no idea what she was talking about when she claimed that half of job applicants at the Savannah River Site had failed drug tests (the actual rate was less than 1 percent).

What I like is the kind of reporter who just doesn’t let feckless politicians get away with routine assertions about things that fit their ideologies, but not the facts, and that’s the kind of reporter Jim was.

I knew some months ago that the end was coming for Jim. Still, he was out there working, even when the sweat was pouring from his brow as he showed up for yet another press conference. Despite the obvious physical strain, he would still set the tone for the event, calmly asking his common-sense questions, not letting anything get by him.

The last time I saw him out there, I asked how he was doing. Not well, he told me matter-of-factly. He wasn’t going to get over it, not this time. I didn’t know what to say. I told him I didn’t know what to say. He just nodded, like a man who had already sorted it out in his own mind, but understood that others might have trouble dealing with it.

I so wanted to say something that would make it better somehow. But I couldn’t. Now he’s gone, and South Carolina is the less for having lost him.

The State’s call for McBride to resign

This was several days ago now — on Christmas Eve eve — but what with the holiday and all you may have missed it, so I call your attention now to the editorial in The State Sunday calling on Lillian McBride to do what she has thus far (unless something has happened that hasn’t been reported) refused to do:

GIVEN THE gravity of Richland County’s Nov. 6 elections debacle, we don’t know if there is anything Lillian McBride could have said or done to restore public confidence in her leadership or to warrant her continuing as director of elections and voter registration. But it is telling and disappointing that she has failed to try.

Other than an early attempt to blame her predecessor and a belated apology at a Richland County legislative delegation hearing, Ms. McBride has done far too little to take responsibility for or explain the fiasco that had some voters waiting up to seven hours to cast votes and led to lawsuits, lost ballots and weeks’ late final results.

We see no other way forward but for Ms. McBride to step down as a majority of county lawmakers have requested, not simply because of the Election Day disaster, but because of her overall failure to properly prepare and manage the process leading up to Nov. 6 and her inability to lead through this crisis….

Spot on. The Election Day mess was one thing. Her utter failure to show us anything whatsoever that would give us even a wisp of confidence in her since then seals the deal. If any of you have seen anything that would make you want to hire her for a position of public responsibility, please share.

Which is Rothko, and which is ADCO?

Three years ago, the staff of ADCO had our annual Christmas party at Hobby Lobby. After refreshments, each us was given a canvas and paints, and challenged to create something for the walls of our offices.

We were encouraged to paint in the style of Mark Rothko, and most of us cooperated. We were generally pleased with the results, which you can still see today adorning the walls of 1220 Pickens St.

Fast-forward to this year…

Last Thursday, our office Christmas party consisted of lunch at Hampton Street Vineyard, followed by a tour of the Rothko exhibit at Columbia Museum of Art.

Now, here’s a test of your artistic perspicacity: Above and below are images of two paintings. Can you tell which is by ADCO, and which is by Rothko himself?

No cheating! To check yourself, you may look it up on Google Images after you share your answer. You’re all on the honor system, and sure, you are all honorable men. And women.

IMG_1022

No, wait! McBride says she HASN’T quit…

OK, so disregard the previous report. Check this out instead:

Columbia, SC (WLTX) – Richland County Election Director Lillian McBride is denying reports that she has resigned her position. Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) told reporters earlier that McBride has agreed to step down on January 8 and possibly take another position at the county.

A short while after those reports, McBride emailed the media saying that was not the case. Her email read: “Dear valued members of the press: This is to inform you that I have not submitted my resignation to the Board of Elections and Voter Registration or to the members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation. Any discussion of this is entirely premature and erroneous. Sincerely, Lillian McBride Executive Director of Richland County Elections and Voter Registration”…

Wow.

Of course the first question that arises is, if she hasn’t quit, why not?

The next question is, did we ever identify anyone who had the power to fire her? Because if so, it’s getting time to make a move…

Report: McBride quits as Richland elections chief

DISREGARD THE FOLLOWING! Lillian McBride now DENIES that she has quit!

Most of y’all will likely regard this as a positive development:

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Richland County’s embattled elections director has resigned six weeks after an election plagued by long lines and an insufficient number of voting machines.

Representative Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) says Lillian McBride’s resignation is effective January 8th. The decision comes two days after the commission’s chairwoman, Liz Crum, stepped down.

McBride’s attorney, John Nichols, submitted the resignation to the delegation Wednesday afternoon.

Rutherford says he does not believe there is any compensation tied to her resignation. He also believes the election board intends to try and find a position for her in the voter registration office where she worked with a good track record for 23 years.

This follows a story in The State this morning that showed most members of the county legislative delegation being in favor of her stepping down.

Where Burl gets to go to work every day

Here’s further proof that life is unfair, as though you needed any.

As you know, several months back, regular Burl Burlingame, my high school classmate, became the first newspaperman I’d known in years to leave the business voluntarily.

He became curator of the Pacific Aviation Museum, on Ford Island, smack in the middle of Pearl Harbor.

A few days ago, he posted the above picture of his workplace. I just now saw it.

It’s just not right that anybody gets to call that his “workplace.”

It’s not just the rainbow, folks. It would be awesome without that…